I was about 60% of the way through a post on last year’s Academy Awards, prepared to slam the Oscar winners, when I realized something – they weren’t all that bad. Sure, choosing The King’s Speech over The Social Network is like selecting Monopoly money over a real $100 bill, but the acting, screenplay and technical categories were generally full of correct (in my eyes, at least) choices. So today we go old-school on Oscars Week, with 1977’s best picture Annie Hall. Incredibly enough, I had never seen Woody Allen’s masterpiece until today. I now plan on buying it immediately.
Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way right now: nothing should have won Best Picture over Star Wars at the 1978 Oscars. No film released in the previous year was nearly as revolutionary as Star Wars – hell, maybe ten movies in the history of Earth are as revolutionary as Star Wars. So Annie Hall immediately has one knock against it, though obviously not of its own accord. But sometimes there can be more than one deserving Best Picture per year, can’t there? Because Annie Hall certainly fits.
I don’t think I need to go on with the plot of Annie Hall for long for two main reasons. The first is there’s not much of a plot to describe to begin with: it details the long and twisted relationship of Alvie Singer (Woody Allen) and Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). The second: if you haven’t seen Annie Hall by this point, you’re a horrible person. And no, I’m not being a hypocrite – up until a few hours ago, I was a horrible person.
There is not a tremendous amount of character development in Annie Hall. Annie certainly changes, but Alvie is the same neurotic man throughout the entire running time. There aren’t any plot twists, there’s no big reveal at the end, nothing whatsoever to suggest that this is a radical film in any way – except for one thing. The characters constantly break the fourth wall in the beginning and are placed in and out of past events. Every scene that Woody Allen breaks off and talks to the camera is funny and an inventive way of getting across the character’s feelings.
But this is a movie about the dialogue. I may be able to count on one hand the number of movies I’ve seen that have dialogue as sharp as Annie Hall. You can’t fall out of focus here or you’ll miss another sharp line, conversation or character interaction. Some of my favorites…
“I have to go now, Duane, because I’m due back on the planet Earth.”
“What does he call you, Bathsheba?”
“Sun is bad for you. Everything our parents said was good is bad. Sun, milk, red meat… college.”
“What’d you do, grow up in a Norman Rockwell painting?”
“Darling, I’ve been killing spiders since I was 30.”
You know what’s amazing? I just picked out five of my favorite quotes from Annie Hall, and I’d wager none of those are part of the five most famous quotes from the film. This is as quotable of a movie or television series as I’ve ever seen. Was this the Anchorman of 1977? Did people wander around on the sidewalk quoting Woody Allen? They should have.
Funny lines are to Annie Hall as profanity is to Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff”: if you tune out for 30 seconds, you’re bound to miss at least one. There’s not a minute of this film that doesn’t feature some kind of humor. And all the while, Annie Hall is quite serious. It seems like an autobiographical look at a real-life intensely neurotic man, and it features an entirely believable relationship throughout. The only bad thing about this is that it ends in 93 minutes. I could watch Allen and Keaton spar for hours and not get tired of it. This is just plain great, and there’s no two ways around it. 34-plus years later, it’s still better than anything I’ve seen in theatres this year. I can’t wait to go out and buy it and watch it again and again.